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Pierre Lauwers

Herbert Howells

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Sorry, here's a question as a bit of an after thought. How on earth do you manage the registration changes in the first two "verses" of Master Tallis without general pistons. I've always found the required changes to the pedal registrations - at times 8' only, then 16', then back to 8', a nightmare without an assistant to change the stops.

 

Of course with loads of generals, and a sequencer, as Gloucester now has, its a piece of cake.

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Guest Roffensis
The Church of England's old standard texts: The services from the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and the (King James) Authorised Version of the Bible (1611?).

 

 

Yes, and note the old ASB (alternative service book) was never intended to replace the Common Prayer, it was to be an alternative. All of the "rubrics" of the BCP still stand, but many churches choose simply to ignore it. The language is considered too difficult, and lesser mortals not able to comprehend it. Hmm!!! A great loss. Even as a RC I saw the virtue in the language and logic of it all (except the bit about Popery.... ooh!! nasty!!) :P . As I say, a great loss. Where it is used, it remains quite wonderful.

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Sorry, here's a question as a bit of an after thought. How on earth do you manage the registration changes in the first two "verses" of Master Tallis without general pistons. I've always found the required changes to the pedal registrations - at times 8' only, then 16', then back to 8', a nightmare without an assistant to change the stops.

 

Of course with loads of generals, and a sequencer, as Gloucester now has, its a piece of cake.

 

It should be possible to acheive this without too much trouble. There are rests (and commas) marked before each change of registration and, given the sensitive and generous acoustic ambience of Gloucester, I suspect that Howells did not intend the performer to proceed immediately to the next bar. Rather, that one should allow the music to breathe. I think that the slower pieces by Howells are often played too quickly - there is then little sense of architecture, of the inexorable progession to the climax. Take the Psalm-Prelude No. 1, from Set Two - if this is played too quickly, I would argue that the passage(s) on the last two systems of the fifth page do not make sense. In my view, the glorious harmonies need time to register - any faster and, in an acoustic such as is found at Gloucester, the result will be muddled and unsatisfying.

 

On a related point - look at the St. Paul's Service - regard closely the harmonic changes. They are slower than several other settings - even King's and Gloucester. Howells deliberately took account of the extremely long decay at St. Paul's and therefore wrote a setting in which this important facet was not merely accommodated but actually enhanced the pace of the climaxes.

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Yes, and note the old ASB (alternative service book) was never intended to replace the Common Prayer, it was to be an alternative. All of the "rubrics" of the BCP still stand, but many churches choose simply to ignore it. The language is considered too difficult, and lesser mortals not able to comprehend it. Hmm!!! A great loss. Even as a RC I saw the virtue in the language and logic of it all (except the bit about Popery.... ooh!! nasty!!)  :P . As I say, a great loss. Where it is used, it remains quite wonderful.

 

I would agree with you, Richard.

 

However, it must not be overlooked that the ASB, amongst its many services, made provision for the Blessing of an Abbess - now you must admit that this is something which every self-respecting organist should have to hand.... :P

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Dear Paul,

 

I launched this topic some times ago.

Maybe we could go on on Howells here, while leaving the Swell shutter's

topic to the shutters.

 

I posted Gloucester's specification page one,

here is it again:

 

CHOIR

 

Contra Dulciana 16'

Claribel Flute 8'

Dulciana 8'

Viola di Gamba 8'

Lieblich Flute 4'

Harmonic Piccolo 2'

 

GREAT

 

Double Open Diapason 16'

Open Diapason I 8'

Open Diapason II 8'

Open Diapason III 8'

Claribel Flute 8'

Octave 4'

Harmonic Flute 4'

Octave Quint 2 2/3'

Super Octave 2'

Sesquialtra 3 ranks, 17,19,22 ( Sesquialtera?)

Trombone 16'

Trumpet 8'

Clarion 4'

 

SWELL

 

Lieblich Bourdon 16'

Open Diapason 8'

Lieblich Gedackt 8'

Salicional 8'

Vox angelica 8' T.C.

Principal 4'

Fifteenth 2'

Mixture 3 ranks 17,19,22

Contra Posaune 16'

Cornopean 8'

Oboe 8'

Vox Humana 8'

Clarion 4'

Tremulant

 

SOLO (expressive)

 

Quintaton 16'

Harmonic Flute 8'

Viole d'orchestre 8'

Viole celeste 8' (no mention of compass)

Concert Flute 4'

Orchestral Bassoon 16'

Clarinet 8'

Tremulant

Tuba 8' (unenclosed)

 

PEDAL

 

Double Open Wood 32'

Open Wood 16' (extended from Double)

Open Diapason 16' (borrowed from great Double O.D.)

Sub Bass 16'

Dulciana 16' (borrowed from Choir Contra Dulciana)

Octave wood 8' (extended from Double Open Wood)

Flute 8' ( extended from Sub Bass)

Ophicleide 16'

Bassoon 16' (borrowed from Solo Orchestral Bassoon)

Posaune 8' (extended from Ophicleide)

 

This should be after the H&H rebuild.

Do we know the Willis original specification?

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Thanks!

 

So the main differencies lie in the Pedal, with extensive borrowing

and extensions, and on the Solo.

It is interesting to note Willis Mixtures and reeds were largely kept

(revoiced maybe).

 

So we may assume this Willis state to be the one H.H. had in mind

while composing for the organ?

 

Pierre

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So we may assume this Willis state to be the one H.H. had in mind

while composing for the organ?

 

Pierre

 

I do not think so. The H&H Pedal, GO and Swell reeds were almost certainly revoiced - those on the GO certainly sound like H&H reeds on old recordings. It is the H&H sound which HH probably had in mind - with Arthur Harrison's characteristically meticulous final voicing and finishing. Every flue stop would have had a super-smooth progression from one note to another - as would the orchestral reeds. Only the Swell reeds were usually given more fire.

 

Certainly on the recordings which I have, the organ definitely sounds like an H&H - not a FHW!

 

I hope that this helps.

 

Best wishes!

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Thanks!

 

Apologies for my historian's strange mind, but according to Paul, this organ

remained H;H's preffered even after the H&H rebuild.

So we need to know more about that matter, because it is clear a

FHW does not sound like an H&H.

 

Here is the quote from Paul's post:

 

"Gloucester first! - well and truly out in front - I speak of the Willis, later to be rebuilt by H&H at the design of Herbert Brewer. Even after this rebuild, HH still championed this organ over all others "

 

Groetjes,

Pierre

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Just to clarify: Howells had his lessons (as Brewer's articled pupil) on the Willis organ. The H&H rebuild didn't happen until 1920 - long after Howells had departed to study at the RCM.

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An organ which is mainly made of two big flue-and-reeds choruses,

with some solist and soft stops round them; an organ that manages

to present four manuals and Pedal with 39 stops.....

Anything but an ordinary job!

 

Pierre

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Just to clarify: Howells had his lessons (as Brewer's articled pupil) on the Willis organ. The H&H rebuild didn't happen until 1920 - long after Howells had departed to study at the RCM.

 

 

Yes - I know!

 

However, a good proportion of his compositions for organ were written after the H&H rebuild, as were the accompaniments to many of his canticle settings.

 

In addition, it was after the 1971 radical re-designing of the organ that he exclaimed "They have smashed up my organ!" - there is no record of him having said that after the H&H transformation of 1920 (which, in its own way, was arguably as radical as that planned by Ralph Downes).

 

I take this to mean that it was the Gloucester organ in its H&H incarnation which was his favoured instrument - and the one which he had in mind when writing the great proportion of his works.

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While we are on the subject - Downes cites part of FHW's description of his 1847 rebuild as 'exasperatingly vague'. The phrase in question is (from FHW): "... It had a double Venetian front - the pianissimo was simply astounding..."

 

There has been much conjecture as to what FHW actually meant, here. There are a number of possibilities:

 

* That the Swell Organ was East of the GO soundboard, with shutters facing east and west. (The soundboards must have run from north to south at this time.) However, this would greatly have impeded the projection of the Swell Organ, as heard in the nave. It is, of course, possible that the nave was infrequentl;y used for sevices at this time.

 

* That the Swell Organ had two shutter-fronts, but on the same face, and separated by a full-height tuning panel.

 

* Two sets of shutters - one approximately a foot or so in front of the other.

 

If anyone has any ideas, I would be pleased to hear them!.

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Fine, gentlemen!

 

Now we are in the middle of the problem.

H.H. lived long after 1920, but he wasn't

in Gloucester any more. He played elsewhere,

but his main activities were teaching and

composing, tough.

Radical, the rebuild? Compared with the

"reformers", not at all, tough I understand

the voicing could have been much modified.

 

If we look at the 1890 scheme, bearing in mind

what was built in W(censured)r at the very same

time, we have something quite conservative,

idiosyncratic -Willis in short-

 

-Big Great and Swell dedicated to choruses

-A little Choir with the soft stops

-A tiny (on paper!) Solo with the soloists

-A restricted Pedal

 

A very clever specification, concise, "essentials first"

thinking. I cannot avoid to get a feel this style is still,

somewhere, rooted in the 18th century!

 

Now if we think about, read, and hear Howell's organ

music again, what do you find in it that would confirm/infirm

this?

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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A tricky one, Pierre - it may not be possible to prove this to the satisfaction of everyone. However, I will have a go.

 

Firstly, the 1920 H&H rebuild: radical? In many ways, I believe so. From avaliable recordings of the H&H, as compared with the sound of Truro and Oxford Town Hall (which I feel are quite reasonable comparisons), the sound would have been quite different. Apart from the substantial increase in the number of speaking stops, the Solo Organ was enclosed. The quiet solo reeds may well have been revoiced - Arthur Harrison's method of tonal finishing was to start with the quiet 8p foundations on the Swell, one stop at a time, and proceed up (in sides), satisfied only when one pipe followed another completely smoothly - no hint of transient or 'faulty' speech was tolerated. Apparently, he personally 'finished' every organ in the building for which it was made - taking as much trouble over a small village church organ as he did on a great cathedral instrument.

 

Then there are the Pedal and GO chorus reeds. Whilst it is likely that the GO reeds spoke on the same pressure as they did at the time of the 1898 rebuild, it is possible that the Pedal Ophicleide was revoiced on a higher pressure.

 

In fairness, it must be said that Arthur Harrison did not (as was his wont) revoice the GO reeds as trombi - they were voiced on a pressure of 175mm. This is probably the pressure on which they spoke previous to the 1920 rebuild. At Exeter, FHW provided a family of three trumpets on 175mm wind (on which they still speak) and H&H did not revoice them in 1933. However, the Choir and Solo organs were substantially altered - and it is surely the Solo Organ which Howells had in mind when thinking of some of his solo voices.

 

It is worth noting that Howells hardly ever specified what type of solo stop he wished a performer to use. There are a few instructions to use a Tuba, but hardly any other specific tone-colours are mentioned.

 

However, there are a number of places where he specified 'Solo' - and included crescendi and diminuendi marks. By conjecture, I am certain that he literally meant 'the Solo Organ'. I have two reasons for thinking this. Firstly, he was quite specific in his clavier and coupling directions. Throughout his works, there are numerous examples of this. Secondly, due to the presence of the marks of gradation of tone - and the fact that certain passages are marked 'Solo', with no directions to couple the clavier on which the solo was to be played - he must have been thinking about the Solo Organ. The Choir Organ at Gloucester has never been enclosed and, after 1920, it lost both its quiet solo reeds, (which may have been revoiced by H&H and put in the Solo box), subsequently becoming a flues-only department.

 

However, I would be interested to hear what Paul has to say about my theories - unlike me, he was fortunate in being taught by Howells and may well have information to show that I am incorrect in some, or all of my assumptions!

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Indeed, Pierre.

 

I would certainly be glad to hear from Paul Derrett on the matter - conjecture and detective games are both stimulating and amusing; however it is good sometimes to be presented with undisputable facts and anecdotal evidence!

 

However, the plot thickens....

 

:)

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Indeed, Pierre.

 

I would certainly be glad to hear from Paul Derrett on the matter - conjecture and detective games are both stimulating and amusing; however it is good sometimes to be presented with undisputable facts and anecdotal evidence!

 

However, the plot thickens....

 

:)

 

 

 

Happy to throw in my six-penny-worth:

 

FHW's Gloucester Double venetian front - I take to mean (which is quite common) a swell front with the shutters in two halves - i.e. to left and right of the tuners door, down between the C and C sharp sides. I don't think either that there were shutters at the back and front of the box, or that there were two sets of shutters one inside the other - Russian Doll style.

 

The point is, whether one was playing with a few stops or the whole lot, when the box was shut the sound just disappeared. FHW was so excited by this result - it was (if not the first) one of his first cathedral organ contracts.

 

Back to Howells - there is no question that although he liked the Gloucester Cathedral organ before the H&H rebuild, he was in total sympathy with it afterwards.

 

I can give you a direct quote :

'Whatever it says on the music, I always wrote my organ pieces with the sound of the Gloucester organ in mind'.*

 

Please note, for instance, that this is why the 'Six Pieces' written during and immediately after WW2 are all dedicated to Herbert Sumsion (a long-term friend and by then Organist at Gloucester) - that was where HH wanted them to be played!

 

 

*Actually, when he came back from the inagural recital on the rebuilt organ, white with rage with the words 'They have smashed up my organ ' - he also said that he would never write another organ piece. Fortunately, this was after he had completed his Partita for Edward Heath.

 

The story about the Partita is told incomplete (and is incomplete in Spicer's book). The bit everyone knows is that Heath asked when HH was going to write him a piece. The answer, mostly in fun, was 'when you are Prime Minister'. The bit you don't hear told is that Howells composed Heath a three-movement work, then a worrying thought struck him! He had made it too difficult and that probably Heath would not have been able to play it. He therefore added some easier movements. The only slow movement in the original version was the Sarabande for the 12th Day of any October (V-Williams' Birthday) - I think that this is one of the most glorious little pieces he ever wrote.

 

I have not only an autographed copy, but one with HHs corrections and (for instance) indications where John Birch had added notes to the original - these appear in Novello's edition much to HH's disgust.

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Dear Paul,

 

Thank you for that - it makes fascinating reading.

 

I am amazed that Novello published an edition of one of his works with annotations by John Birch, without first checking with HH!

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The "Grove" organ is the instrument built by Michel and Thynne for the 1885 Inventions Exhibition, now named after the Reverend C.W. Grove who bought it and presented it to the abbey.

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying its a poor instrument - its magnificent, but in the context of worship in the abbey it serves no purpose. It does get played in occasional recitals. I've not played it myself but would guess it is not the easiest organ to play without plenty of time for familiarisation as the console has not been modernised at all and does not have much in the way of registration aids.

 

I grew up in this part of England and during my childhood this instrument was silent. I well remember the excitement when Bishops were commisioned to restore the organ to working order and attended the opening recital by Francis Jackson. It would be a great tragedy if this organ were to return to silence, but it must represent an enormous burden to the abbey authorities to maintain an instrument which has no liturgical purpose, in addition to the now magnificent 4-manual Milton which is itself an organ of great historical significance.

Howells Organ music is incredibly awkward to register if you don't have the resources of a large instrument at your disposal. For me I just glory at the lush diapasons and Full Swell chorus of St Paul's Cathedral . Many of you might have the recordings of Dearnley playing the Psalm preludes and Rhapsodies and they are joy to play in your home volume turn up on the hi-fi to appreciate the sounds of st pauls. I must admit i am not keen on playing his music which i fnd difficult to play. Some of the shorter works are a delight like the Master Tallis Testament and sine nomine. Without a doubt I still think the best organ for me is a Willis.

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Maybe the "right" Howells organ would be just between

a Willis I and an A.Harrison?

(Also a genuine hybrid one).

Like Tournemire's dream organ could have been just between

Cavaillé Coll and Victor Gonzalez (Not Danion-Gonzalez, which came later).

 

This said, there were no french equivalent to Arthur Harrison!

Pierre

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Aftertought:

Please, play Howells without huge quint mixtures!

Like Reger's, this music , filled with dramatic accents, was written for

soft upperwork, not shrill ones!

Modern mixtures transform accents into cries in Howells, Reger and Liszt's

music.

Pierre

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Maybe the "right" Howells organ would be just between

a Willis I and an A.Harrison?

That's why it goes so well at Exeter Cathedral! :(

 

 

Aftertought:

Please, play Howells without huge quint mixtures!

Like Reger's, this music , filled with dramatic accents, was written for

soft upperwork, not shrill ones!

Modern mixtures transform accents into cries in Howells, Reger and Liszt's

music.

Oh, yes, absolutely. That's the one blemish on Graham Barber's CD of the Sonata and 6 Pieces at Hereford - that ghastly, percussive, tinkly Mixture that must surely be a later addition: it just doesn't fit the rest of the organ. Otherwise, a great disc.

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There were mixtures transformed and or added while the last restoration

in Hereford.

Anyone who happens to study Gloucester's specification, both Willis and H&H's,

cannot avoid noting all Mixture work were two "17-19-22" stops.

 

If you show that a french, he'll say this stop is a "Carillon"....

Of course this may seem so on paper not in reality -smaller scale, breaks-

but this is a very special kind of Mixture indeed, tough common in Britain.

I am convinced these Mixtures are intended to bind flue and reed choruses

togheter, or even the reeds only (Full Swell); not at all to crown a genuine

Diapason chorus.

 

In this the british romantic and late romantic organ resembles the german one -indeed not the french- which had also these tierce Mixtures, even closer to a Cornet than

the 17-19-22 kind.

There too, these stops were not at all designed for a pure Diapason chorus.

Reger's polyphony had to be made clear by a polyphonic nature of the stops themselves, not the upperwork.

Anyone who knows a little Walcker organs will understand what I mean; there is not an atom of excessive "fat", even in a Pedal 16' wood Violone or Kontrabass.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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